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Tangerine

Year: 2015
Production Co: Duplass Brothers Productions
Director: Sean Baker
Writer: Sean Baker/Chris Bergoch
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor

Over ten years ago a distributor made a lot of noise about a film called Tarnation, in which filmmaker Jonathan Caouette chronicled the descent of his mother into a pit of mental illness and prescription medication abuse and made a film out of it that was equal parts disturbing (the scenes of his mother's plight) and pretentious (all the goth-inspired effects and visuals he plugged into the gaps).

Chief among the messages in the film's marketing mythology was that Caouette had made the film for only $218 on his iMac computer.

Now along comes what seems to be the more modern equivalent, Tangerine, which director Sean Baker filmed around the seedy streets of Hollywood with iPhone 5s, special clip-on lenses and steadying mounts.

Any time more attention is called to the way a film is made than the quality in the film itself, it's cause for worry. It soon became part of the mythology of Gareth Edward's Monsters that he did the special effects himself on his bedroom PC, but Edwards is such a good moviemaker (as his more recent efforts have proven) that Monsters was one of the best movies of 2010.

Tangerine is far from the best movie of 2015. It's easy to appreciate the guerilla artistry that went into the production, but that lasts for five minutes before you're expecting an interesting story about characters you can about.

It's the tale of two transgender hookers, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who make their way around a few blocks of Hollywood on Christmas Eve on a mission. News that her man and pimp Chester has been cheating on her while she's been in jail for a month gets back to Sin-Dee and she storms all over the neighbourhood trying to track down the ho he be bangin' (the lingo's too easy to take on when describing the plot).

Alexandra wants none of Sin-Dee's drama, hightailing it out of the Donut Time outlet when the first feathers fly.

There's also a sleazy Armenian taxi driver in the wings, scouting for girls (while he tries to find his usual patron in Alexandra) even though he has a wife and family at home.

All of it comes to almost no real point other than to showcase Rodriguez's considerable skills at urban trash talk, and the final climax where an all-out brawl of jealousy and recrimination nearly breaks out at Donut Time seems to be comedy.

It's not until the last minute or so that there's any socio-political subtext (if that's what you were waiting for) when Sin-Dee is subjected to a revolting act of abuse by a passing carload of fratboy bigots, and Alexandra is the only friend she has in the world.

All that just for a plea for tolerance in sexual politics, or a throwaway serious moment right at the end of what's essentially ghetto slapstick? It doesn't matter because neither journey is very interesting.

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